What Is Cabinet Refacing?

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated October 21, 2021
Newly refaced kitchen cabinets
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Give your existing cabinets a new look instead of replacing them

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If you’re ready to give your kitchen a makeover, but are working with a small budget, think about cabinet refacing (also called cabinet resurfacing). The only catch with this method is that your existing cabinet boxes need to be in good condition. That’s because with refacing, you keep the boxes, apply a new finish material to their surfaces, and replace the doors, drawers, and hardware. Read on to learn more about cabinet refacing and how it works.

How Cabinet Refacing Works

In a nutshell, the cabinet refacing process works as follows:

1. You begin by removing the cabinet drawers and doors (the boxes, or parts drilled into the wall, remain intact). 

2. Then, you cover the cabinet boxes with natural wood veneer or RTF (rigid thermofoil) and cover the sides of the cabinets with laminate or wood veneer. 

3. Next, if your existing door hinges are not in good condition, you replace them. 

4. Then, you install new doors and drawer fronts. 

5. Finally, you install new door handles or drawer pulls if your existing hardware is not in good shape. 

Pros of Cabinet Refacing

Aside from the chance to give your kitchen a fresh look, cabinet refacing offers other benefits over buying new ones:

  • Save money on the cabinets themselves and the installation costs.

  • Save time since cabinet refacing is a less involved project than choosing, purchasing, and installing a set of new cabinets.

  • Salvage functional cabinet boxes and reduce waste.

Cons of Cabinet Refacing

Cabinet refacing drawbacks are primarily related to the kitchen’s existing layout and functionality:

  • Refacing won’t fix a subpar kitchen design.

  • Refacing does not address box interiors, so it will not improve storage space.

  • Since you’re not replacing your cabinet boxes, your “like-new” cabinets won’t last as long as brand-new cabinets.

When Not To Reface

Generally, it’s not worth refacing if you have:

  • Cabinets that are not structurally sound

  • Cabinets that lack good internal storage

  • Rusting metal cabinets

  • Un-level cabinets due to settled floors

  • Difficult or inoperable drawers

When To Reface

Consider this option if your existing cabinetry:

  • Is well-built and structurally sound with good internal storage

  • Features solid hardwood face frames

  • Has internal hardware in good condition

Three Finishing Options

When choosing refacing materials, you have three choices. In order from the least to most expensive, they include:

  • Rigid thermofoils (RTFs): This finish is made from vinyl foil molded over medium-density-fiberboard (MDF) doors. It can be shaped and molded in many styles and features a realistic wood grain aesthetic. When it comes to solid color choices, though, there aren’t as many options as with laminates.

  • Plastic laminates: These come in a variety of solid colors and wood grains. Not as malleable as RTFs, they’re best suited for plain cabinet door styles.

  • Wood veneers: This is the most realistic-looking option and is an ideal match for wood cabinetry. The price point is 10–25% higher than with RTFs and laminates.

Cabinet Refacing Cost

Generally, refacing cabinets costs 30 to 50% less than opting for new custom cabinets. For the average size kitchen, expect to spend about $7,000 to 10,000 if you hire a professional installer. If you DIY, you can spend as little as $500 to $1,000 for the veneer materials, not including the additional costs of the doors, drawer fronts, hardware, and tools. Keep in mind that finishing with wood veneers is more expensive than using plastic laminates or RTFs.

Deciding On an Installer

If you decide to DIY, know that veneering can be quite challenging. Plus, tackling this project yourself could take up to five days longer than a two-person professional cabinet refacing installation crew. If you’re working on this project in your spare time, it could take even longer. 

How to Handle Cabinets with Lead Paint

If your cabinets were painted before 1978, they could contain lead, a metal that causes a range of health problems. If you hire a pro, make sure they take all necessary precautions. When DIYing, consider encapsulating the paint rather than disturbing it by sanding or scraping. You can do this by covering your existing cabinet boxes with 0.25-inch MDF or composite board and then placing refacing material on top. 

When working, cover the kitchen with plastic, wear a respirator, keep surfaces moist, and clean up with a HEPA vacuum.

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